Review

Rain

Not Quite There

Rain is pretty like a stormy night but insubstantial like its invisible hero.

By Anthony John Agnello • October 4, 2013

“Clair De Lune,” Claude Debussy’s aural interpretation of the Paul Verlaine poem of the same name, is the strong stuff. Debussy’s lilting piano melody evokes an unstoppable tide of feeling just as the song’s namesake tugs at the ocean. It’s everything music can be simultaneously; intellectual and primal, joyous and melancholy, patient and immediate. Used as accompaniment to other art, “Clair De Lune” can be a forceful tool, but you’ve got to earn it. Sony C.A.M.P.’s new game Rain plays the Debussy card almost immediately to bolster its fairy tale about an invisible boy trying to rescue an invisible girl. The game then proceeds to add thick layers of sweetly sad music and art to keep the tone rolling. Unfortunately, though, Rain never bothers to build the strong core necessary to earn “Clair De Lune.”

Sony C.A.M.P.’s previous game was Tokyo Jungle, and the premise of Rain is as lovely as Jungle’s is bizarre. A boy is lying in bed when he hears a ruckus outside his window. He peeks out to see a giant, angular monster pursuing a girl. At least, he sees their shapes: Both beast and girl are transparent, just outlines in the downpour. Being the bold sort—the type of kid who usually stars in fairy tales—the boy runs out into the rain to help, following the chase through a giant door in his early-20th century, vaguely Parisian city. Brave as he is, the boy’s pretty screwed when he waltzes through the door. The girl’s nowhere to be seen, and now he’s invisible himself. From there, it’s off into the abandoned, dark mirror of his hometown where it never stops raining and he needs to find the girl.

Rain

That’s a fine way to start a story, and it’s a fine foundation for a tense adventure across a familiar but warped landscape. The Unknown, the tall drink of edges chasing the girl (and a dead ringer for the big robot in The World’s End), isn’t the only danger out in the rain. There are snarling invisible dog things, screeching invisible beetles, and bellowing invisible bull-tank hybrids waiting to snatch you up as well. All these creatures have lousy hearing and rely on seeing your outline in the rain to strike, so your time is mostly spent finding places to get out of the rain. The effect is pleasing. Each time you duck under an awning to slip past these feral critters, it’s exciting to see your body disappear, aside from some wet footprints.

Rain makes it somewhat more complicated to stay hidden as you plumb further into the city. When you follow the girl into a dilapidated church, you have to trick the Unknown into a back room with loud noises so you can slip into another room, get what you need to open the cloister door in the front, and keep following. Outside a sewer, you may step in a muddy puddle, making your feet visible even outside the storm, and you have to find deeper puddles to wash yourself off. These examples are about as complex as Rain ever gets, though. The game never demands much thought outside of figuring where to run to next.

Rain

A lack of complex problem solving isn’t a problem in and of itself. Starbreeze’s Brothers: A Tale Of Two Sons, another artful fairy tale about two children in a pickle, also doesn’t bust your brain, favoring simple, expressive puzzles as its primary activity. Most of the time, you’re just walking forward, but it’s no less affecting. Why Brothers works and Rain doesn’t, though, is that even the simplest action in Brothers tells you a lot about the characters you’re playing. The boy and girl in Rain, however, aren’t just literally faceless—their only feelings are spelled out explicitly in somber narration text that pops up during the short stages.

You never directly control the girl, but she can only do the same things the boy can: climb a ladder, crawl under a fence, and so on. All the game shows us through action is that these kids hate giant monsters, and those monsters are so dumb that they can’t figure out those pesky invisible children are hiding out in the doorway directly in front of them. Because the characters are so empty, Rain’s insistent earnestness comes off as precious at best and cloying at worst. The constant minor-key piano music, dreary city, and the narration of the kids’ desperate sadness don’t build toward a cumulative effect because they don’t rest on anything firm.

Rain

What essence Rain does have dissipates by the conclusion, when it trots out Debussy’s “Claire De Lune” for what felt like the millionth time. Rather than try to milk some appropriately resolute feeling from the song to fit the ending, Rain presumes to add lyrics. Rain is so desperate to force catharsis, it pushes unnecessary bulk onto a powerful song. Rain is very pretty, and sometimes it’s even fun to play, but in the end, it’s as transparent as its protagonist, never substantial enough to deserve Debussy’s jam.

Rain
Developer: Sony C.A.M.P.
Publisher: Sony
Platform: PlayStation 3
Price: $15
Rating: E

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  • rvb1023

    I got similar feelings you did while playing. The game was very limited in almost every regard. I was waiting for them to introduce something more and it never really happened.

    • Enkidum

      Sounds like a really cool idea, a nifty twist on an old gameplay style, like Portal or Unfinished Swan or whatever, but they just couldn’t quite get the writing and level design up to scratch. I think I’ll pass (though I started Tokyo Jungle a while back and it’s pretty weird and cool).

      • snazzlenuts

        Don’t underestimate the toxic rain in Tokyo Jungle; it gets you every time.

  • PaganPoet

    Debussy inspired art:

    Kate Bush quotes “Claire de Lune” in her awesome b-side You Want Alchemy.

    Not one to leave a Kate Bush idea alone, Tori Amos quotes Debussy in Carry, but this time it’s “The Girl with the Flaxen Hair.”

    Snark aside, the album that comes from, Night of Hunters, was a welcome return to form for Tori Amos, in my opinion, after all the MOR adult contemporary she churned out during the 00s.

    • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

      *avatar quote*  Interestingly, they used the song http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zzDjRS2xURQ as your home base song with your adopted grandmother http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1MfGBpnLz0g .  One doesn’t immediately think of it invoking “home,” but as a temporary waystation, it makes perfect sense to use it there.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Anthony-John-Agnello/1362601810 Anthony John Agnello

      Pagan, how did you know I’ve been listening to Boys For Pele on repeat for the past three months? I’ve been revisiting those first four albums and remembering how damn amazing they are. Haven’t picked up an album since Scarlet’s Walk since they always sounded, well, MOR. I take it Night of Hunters is rad?

      Note: Rain is ten times better if played with From the Choirgirl Hotel as the soundtrack.

      • PaganPoet

        Night of Hunters is like those early acoustic songs of hers, a la Winter, Silent All These Years, Cloud on my Tongue, etc.

        Mind you, there are no pop songs like Cornflake Girl or rock out songs like Professional Widow; it’s all very low-key and mellow, but in the most beautiful way possible. A HUGE step up from her material from the last decade.

  • aklab

    They added …lyrics? To Claire de Lune?
    *facekeys*

    • DrFlimFlam

      You know, to really spice up the piece! How boring is it to have MUSIC with no WORDS?

      • PaganPoet

        Almost as bad as books with no pictures!!

        • Mercenary_Security_number_4

           or pictures with no thought bubbles!

        • DrFlimFlam

          I saw some old people pay money to see a movie that was on a flat screen once and they didn’t have to wear special glasses. Did life used to be flat in the 1990s? LOL

  • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

    Despite their numerous English-language interviews, it’s hard to tell who drove this project that’s so different from their other works.  I think their resume is unimpeachable and hoped for big things with this, but I’m not willing to sacrifice clever, innovative mechanics for artistry (especially mediocre artistry, if Anthony’s correct).

    I mentioned Patchwork Heroes earlier this week as something they did that balanced gameplay and “other stuff,” so it’s disappointing that they could merge them well here.  I very much liked the review, though.

  • Gentileman

    Thanks to this post, I’ve spent the night drinking and listening to Debussy. 

    All in all, not a bad way to cap the evening.

  • M North

    Way to rain on their parade.

    Has anybody seen my coat?

  • Floating Hatchet

    RAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAIN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • His_Space_Holiness

      MANILOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOW!